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Kim’s defense meeting thumbs nose at world

Dec 13,2017
이미지뷰
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, center, presides over a munitions conference in Pyongyang, the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported on Tuesday. [YONHAP]
North Korea made a rare move Tuesday of publicizing a military conference presided over by leader Kim Jong-un, in what Seoul analyzed to be a demonstration that it was unfazed by international pressure and would carry on with its nuclear weapons development.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in an English dispatch that the 8th Conference of Munitions Industry was held in Pyongyang Monday to “review the achievements and experience gained in the work to implement the [Workers’] Party’s policy on the munitions industry and discuss the measures for ushering in a heyday of development of the Juche-based defense industry.”

The event, which KCNA said was ongoing Tuesday, was attended by Kim Jong-un’s key aides, scientists, technicians, “labor innovators” and officials in the defense and munitions industry, all of whom were alleged to have contributed to the successful test-firing of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Nov. 29.

Kim Jong-un wasn’t quoted to have made any remarks. South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which deals with North Korea affairs, said it was the first time Pyongyang has ever publicized the military conference.

At the meeting, Thae Jong-su, a Politburo member and vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, praised each North Korean leader, starting with Kim Il Sung, for dedicating himself to the country’s military development. Kim Jong-un was praised for bringing the regime to a “historic turning point” of becoming a “matchless nuclear weapons state.”

The acclaim was in line with KCNA’s report shortly after Pyongyang launched the Hwasong-15, which said the ICBM was the regime’s “most powerful” weapon and could be tipped with a “super-large heavy warhead” capable of striking all parts of the U.S. mainland.

At the time, KCNA quoted Kim Jong-un as saying that his country had finally mastered its nuclear weapons program. The Hwasong-15 was again lauded Tuesday for having marked the “great victory of the nation,” one that carried out the “historic cause of completing the state nuclear force.”

A senior Unification Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the military conference appeared to be a gesture to raise the spirits of North Korean scientists and missile developers, while seeking internal solidarity in the face of growing pressure from the outside world.

The Kim Jong-un aides mentioned in the KCNA report included No Kwang-chol, head of the Second Economic Committee of the Workers’ Party, which oversees North Korea’s military supplies industry; Jang Chang-ha, head of the Academy of National Defense Science; Jon Il-ho, a lieutenant general who’s affiliated with the Academy of National Defense Science; and Hong Sung-mu and Hong Yong-chil, both vice directors of the Munitions Industry Department.

What caught the eye of South Korean government officials was the absence of Ri Pyong-chol, first deputy director of the Munitions Industry Department, who as recently as Oct. 7 was appointed a member of the powerful Central Military Commission.

Once known as Kim’s most trusted frontmen for missile development, Ri was not seen in the North Korean media last month when the regime bragged about its Hwasong-15 test.

A Unification Ministry official said Seoul was watching for his whereabouts and wasn’t sure if he was purged. “Senior North Korean officials sometimes go on vacation for more than a month,” said the source. “We’ll have to wait for a while longer. He might have been punished or perhaps the North is preparing for another provocation at an undisclosed location.”

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, JEONG YONG-SOO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]